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IELTS A-Z comprehensive guide: What you need to know, essential tips and tricks, sample questions and answers

What is IELTS?

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is used to measure the English proficiency of test takers. It is the most widely recognized English proficiency test in the world, jointly owned by the British Council, IDP, and Cambridge English. It consists of 4 sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. Your IELTS certificate is valid for 2 years since the date it was issued. 

IELTS Scoring System 

IELTS scores range from 0-9. The overall band score is the average of the four sections scores, rounded to the nearest whole or half band. The section scores are weighted equally.

The following table depicts the IELTS scoring scale:

Band scoreSkill level Description 
0Did not attempt the test The test taker did not answer the questions.
1Non-user The test taker has no ability to use the language except a few isolated words. 
2Intermittent user The test taker has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English. 
3Extremely limited user The test taker conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. There are frequent breakdowns in communication. 
4Limited user The test taker’s basic competence is limited to familiar situations. They frequently show problems in understanding and expressions. They are not able to use complex language. 
5Modest user The test taker has a partial command of the language and copes with overall meaning in most situations, although they are likely to make many mistakes. They should be able to handle basic communication in their own field. 
6Competent user The test taker has an effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings. They can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations. 
7Good user The test taker has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings in some situations. They generally handle complex language well and understand detailed reasoning.
8Very good user The test taker has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate usage. They may misunderstand some things in unfamiliar situations. They handle complex and detailed argumentation well.
9Expert user The test taker has fully operational command of the language. Their use of English is appropriate, accurate and fluent, and shows complete understanding.
Source: IELTS, IDP, the British Council 

The IELTS certificate is valid for two years after it is issued. 

Learn more: What is IELTS and what are the differences between Academic and General Training IELTS? 

IELTS Sections 

As mentioned above, IELTS consists of 4 sections. You will do it in the following order: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. Officially, your Speaking test will be held either on the same day or seven days before or after that, depending on examiner availability. However, in Indonesia, it is typically held on the same day.

Listening 

The Listening Section consists of 4 recordings which altogether runs for approximately 30 minutes. You will be given additional 10 minutes to transfer your answers from your question booklet to your answer sheet. 

  • Recording part 1: a conversation between two people set in an everyday social context.
  • Recording part 2: a monologue set in everyday social context (e.g., a tour guide explaining a tourist attraction).
  • Recording part 3: a conversation between up to four people in an educational or training setting, such as a university lecturer and a student discussing an assignment.
  • Recording part 4: a monologue on an academic subject, such as a lecture. 

The Listening Section is aimed at assessing a wide range of listening skills, such as how effectively you can: 

  • Understand the main ideas and listen for specific information. 
  • Recognize the speaker’s opinions, purposes, and attitudes. 
  • Follow the development of an argument.

Each correct answer will receive one mark. Scores out of 40 are converted to the IELTS band scale with the following conversion: 

Correct answersBand sore
39-409
37-388.5
35-368
33-347.5
30-327
27-296.5
23-266
19-225.5
15-185
13-144.5
10-124
8-93.5
6-73
4-52.5

Do you want to get a better score in your IELTS Listening? Learn more about IELTS Listening and how to ace it! 

Reading 

Like the Listening section, the Reading section also consists of 40 questions. There are 3 passages and 60 questions. You won’t be given any additional time to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. 

The Academic and General Training IELTS use different passages. However, it still tests roughly the same Reading skill: 

  • Understand the general idea of a passage
  • Understand and locate main ideas
  • Understand and locate details
  • Understand inferences or implied meanings 
  • Recognize the writer’s opinion, purposes, and attitudes
  • Follow the development of an argument. 

As there are a lot of texts to go through and 40 questions to answer, you must be able to manage your time effectively. Scanning is a recommended technique to do the IELTS Reading Section as a lot of people have difficulties reading quickly, especially a text in a foreign language (that’s completely okay and normal!) 

Academic IELTS and General Training IELTS have the same type of questions, however the passages are different. 

For Academic IELTS, three lengthy texts ranging from descriptive and factual to discursive and analytical. These are taken from books, journals, magazines, and newspapers. They were chosen for a non-specialist audience but are suitable for people starting university courses or pursuing professional registration.

General Training IELTS uses extracts from books, magazines, newspapers, notices, advertisements, company handbooks and guidelines. These are the kinds of materials you’re likely to come across on a regular basis in an English-speaking country. 

Each correct answer will receive one mark. Scores out of 40 are converted to the IELTS band scale with the following conversion: 

Academic IELTS 

Correct answers Band score 
39-409
37-388.5
35-368
33-347.5
30-327
27-296.5
23-266
19-225.5
15-185
13-144.5
10-124
8-93.5
6-73
4-52.5

General Training IELTS 

Correct answersBand score 
409
398.5
37-388
367.5
34-357
32-336.5
30-316
27-295.5
23-265
19-224.5
15-184
12-143.5
9-113
6-82.5
Source: ieltsetc.com (note that this is an approximate) 

Learn more about IELTS Reading: Tips and Tricks to score well in IELTS Reading Section! 

Writing 

Both Academic and General Training IELTS have two Writing Tasks and both Academic and General IELTS test-takers are given one hour to do both Writing Tasks. Task 1 is different in both Academic and General Training IELTS. Task 2 is largely the same for Academic and General Training IELTS, but there are a couple of minor differences that you should be aware of. 

Writing Task 1 

  • Academic IELTS 

Task 1 will present you with a graph, table, chart, or diagram. In your own words, you will be asked to describe, summarize, or explain the information. Describe and explain facts, describe the phases of a process or how something works, or describe an object or event.

Writing Task 1 is scored less than Writing Task 2, so you should only spend 20 minutes on it. However, you have to manage your own time. You won’t be asked to start doing Writing Task 2 after 20 minutes have passed. You need to write at least 150 words.

Learn more from the following articles on how to score well in Writing Task 1:

We hope from these tips you will be able to win well in the Writing Task 1 section.

  • General Training IELTS 

The IELTS General Training Writing test is of general interest. You will be given a situation in Task 1 and instructed to compose a letter asking for information or describing the situation. The letter might be written in a personal, semi-formal, or formal manner.

As with Academic IELTS, you are suggested to spend 20 minutes doing IELTS General Training Writing Task 1. 

The following attachment explains the marking criteria for IELTS Writing Task1 for both Academic and General Training IELTS.

IELTS, IDP, The British Council
Sumber: IELTS, IDP, The British Council www.ielts.org

Writing Task 2 

The Task 2 section of the IELTS Writing Test is essentially the same for both Academic IELTS and General Training IELTS. In response to a point of view, argument, or problem, you will be required to compose an essay. You should find the topics interesting and easy to understand. You can use a fairly personal style. 

However, there is a noticeable difference in the level of difficulty for the essay question between Academic IELTS and General Training IELTS. Essay questions for General Training IELTS tend to be more straightforward and easier to understand. Check the following example: 

Academic IELTS General Training IELTS 
The government is spending a lot of money to discover life on other planets. Some people think that the government is wasting money and should spend more money addressing the problems of the public. To what extent do you agree?Some people believe that salary is more important than job satisfaction for employees. How far do you agree with this statement?

It is clear to see that the General Training IELTS essay question is more straightforward, whereas the Academic IELTS essay question requires some form of hypothesis. 

Another difference for Writing Task 2 between Academic IELTS and General Training IELTS is the topic. General Training IELTS topic tends to be more general – the essay prompts might be about family, school, or society. Whereas Academic IELTS, as shown above, can have more “out there” topics, such as space exploration. 

However, the duration, length of essay, and marking criteria are the same for both Academic and General Training IELTS. 

You should spend 40 minutes doing IELTS Writing Task 2. You must write no less than 250 words. Task 2 is worth twice as much as task 1. 

Learn more on how to score well from tips and tricks to ace Writing Task 2 and how to plan and brainstorm for IELTS Writing Task 2.

The following attachment explains the marking criteria for IELTS Writing Task 2 for both Academic and General Training IELTS.

The following attachment explains the marking criteria for IELTS Writing Task 2 for both Academic and General Training IELTS.

IELTS, IDP, The British Council
Sumber: IELTS, IDP, The British Council www.ielts.org

Speaking 

The IELTS Speaking Test consists of 3 parts and is around 15 minutes long. Academic IELTS and General Training IELTS have the same Speaking Test. The test is interactive and mimics everyday conversation. The test will be recorded. 

The aim of the test is to gauge your ability in the following areas: 

  • You will need to answer a variety of questions in order to share your thoughts and ideas about everyday topics and common experiences.
  • Use appropriate language to discuss certain topics at length. 
  • Organise your thoughts and ideas coherently. 
  • Express and justify your opinions. 
  • Analyse, discuss, and hypothesize about certain topics. 

Make an effort to relax and speak clearly. You must communicate clearly and naturally.

Speaking Part 1 

The examiner will introduce himself or herself and ask you to do the same, as well as confirm your identity. The examiner will ask you broad questions about everyday topics, such as your home, family, job, studies, and hobbies. This part should aid you in relaxing and speaking naturally. 

Here is an example of IELTS Speaking Part 1 questions:

IELTS Speaking Part 1

To get a better score in Speaking Part 1, learn more about IELTS Speaking Part 1 tips and tricks and how to ace it here! 

Speaking Part 2 

The examiner will provide you a task card  to speak about a certain topic, as well as points to include in your talk. You will have one minute to prepare and jot down notes. Next, you will  You will be asked to speak for 1-2 minutes on the topic. You will not be interrupted throughout this period, so it’s important to keep talking. After that, the examiner will ask you one or two questions on the same subject.

Here is an example of IELTS Speaking Part 2 questions: 

IELTS Speaking Part 2

Learn more about tips and tricks on IELTS Speaking Part 2 and how to ace it!

Speaking Part 3

The examiner will ask you additional questions related to the topic of Part 2. These questions are intended to allow you to explore more abstract issues and ideas. It will be a two-way conversation, unlike part 2 which is more of a monologue. 

Here is an example of IELTS Speaking Part 3 questions: 

IELTS Speaking Part 3

To score well in your IELTS Speaking Part 3, learn more about IELTS Speaking Part 3 tips and tricks and how to ace it! 

The following attachment explains the marking criteria for IELTS Speaking Test for both Academic and General Training IELTS.

IELTS, IDP, The British Counci
Sumber: IELTS, IDP, The British Council www.ielts.org

Mistakes to avoid 

IELTS is a fast-paced test with a very specific marking criteria. So the two most important things to be mindful of is time-management and reading and understanding the task instructions. However, there are other mistakes that you should also be aware of. You can learn more about 10 fatal mistakes that IELTS test takers make

IELTS vs TOEFL

Some people are confused between the difference between IELTS and TOEFL and which one they need to do. We made this article to help you learn more about the difference between IELTS and TOEFL here but always make sure to check with your education or work institution to find out which one they require. 

Summary 

In this article, we have given you an overview of the IELTS exam. We hope you find this article helpful. Don’t worry if you find this overwhelming at first, it’s a lot of information to take in at once! But don’t worry, we are always here to help :) 

NEXT STEPS

Do you want to achieve your IELTS target?

We just shared the tips and strategies you need to ace IELTS speaking part 1. Armed with these strategies, you can take the first step on the road to achieve your dream IELTS score. 

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And

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P.S. If you are curious about your IELTS score, contact us about our simulation tests complete with feedback for writing and speaking test!

Sincerely,

Anthony McCormick

IELC Managing Director